You may have heard of Microsoft SharePoint. What is SharePoint? Before I answer that, let me tell you about a growing trend in business: intranets. An intranet is a website that’s internal to an organization. People outside the organization don’t see or have access to a company’s intranet unless they’re specifically granted access.
Until recently, creating and working with an intranet was a painstaking business, because the pages of the website were all singular static web pages. You had to have someone on staff or hire someone who knew how to design the pages. Now, however, we use content management system (CMS). A CMS uses a database to store information for the intranet and a program to turn that data into web pages for people.
What this means is that it’s possible for any person to use a web browser interface to create web pages or work with information very easily. What was once a simple website has evolved into a knowledge management and content management system that’s capable of supporting thousands of people. And yet the interface is so easy anyone can learn it with minimal training (from half a day to two days, depending on a user’s job function).
Microsoft SharePoint is Microsoft’s version of an intranet. It’s basically "intranet in-a-box." Microsoft SharePoint replaces at least eleven different applications at once, and does so in an environment which is seamlessly integrated with Microsoft Windows and Microsoft Office.
Current File System Problems
Current file systems are rife with numerous problems:
- Security issues
- Document versioning problems
- Deleted, moved, or renamed files
- Inappropriate file folder organization
- Lack of any electronic audit trail
- Redundant and inappropriate data and document storage
- "Trapped" information in Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, and Access databases
- Lack of usage information
- Lack of integrated workflow
Microsoft SharePoint Advantages
- Centralization of security, authority, information, knowledge, and group communications
- Automated "behind the scenes" document versioning, complete with minor draft versions and publishing capability
- Control over file storage, organization, placement, and meta information
- Freeing up of "trapped" information by storing data in SharePoint lists instead of format silos like Word, Excel, and Access.
- Centralized "big picture" reporting and usage information
- Integrated workflow
How Does SharePoint Do This?
SharePoint uses several components to accomplish this:
- Seamless logon: users are automatically logged into SharePoint when they log into Windows. This saves time, since users don’t have to worry about multiple logons and passwords.
- Central security templates: IT controls security in a safe, manageable fashion that still gives users full capability to perform their functions. This reduces problems by less tech-savvy users and users who know a little too much for their own good.
- Easy site and sub-site creation: if there is one thing to be emphasized about the SharePoint environment, it is that SharePoint is easy to use. As a software trainer for over eight years, I’ve never seen anything from Microsoft that is this easy. Staff can be trained on SharePoint quickly and with high confidence.
- Document Libraries for central document storage and access with automatic versioning. These eliminate many of the known issues around typical network and file system document storage and management.
- Group Calendars for a team or organization. One problem with Outlook is that there were never any true group functions in it. Outlook services individuals, not groups. SharePoint calendars are for groups. Users can be alerted to calendar changes automatically and even view SharePoint calendars inside of Outlook.
- Group Task and Project Task lists are similar to Outlook tasks, except for a team and the project task list displays a simplified Gantt chart.
- Automated workflow is when the application of business rules within an organization are facilitated and automated through software. SharePoint has workflow capabilities achieved via coding or no-code workflows in SharePoint Designer 2007 (the replacement application for FrontPage). This eases document production friction and lightens administrative burden throughout an organization.
As you can see from the list above, there are tremendous advantages to using Microsoft SharePoint in your organization if you’re not using it already. If you’re interested in learning more about SharePoint, check out these resources: